Folk songs captured for history’s sake

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Folk songs captured for history’s sake

Jeongseon arirang, the traditional Korean folk songs hailing from the Gangwon provincial town of Jeongseon, have been recorded for the first time.
Synnara Music released a collection of eight CDs with 460 songs on Aug. 15, titled “Jeongseon Arirang: the Voice of Life and the Millennium Poem.”
The symbolic folk song of Korea, arirang expresses people’s sorrows, travails and love through a unique melody. It is thought to represent the soul of Koreans as they try to resolve their stress through deep tolerance rather than direct exposure. In this way, arirang songs expose listeners to the innermost feelings of Koreans.
Arirang has over 100 versions, depending on its place of origin. The Jeongseon variety is considered the prototype. It is one of the four representative arirang, which include Seoul arirang from Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi province, Jindo arirang from the namesake island in South Jeolla province, and Miryang arirang from South Gyeongsang province.
Finding a true vocalist of Jeongseon arirang is difficult since the song is irregular and arrhythmic. In addition, the grace note is undeveloped, and high and low tones are barely distinguishable. Since it sounds very much like narration, it’s often called “a song without a score.”
For these reasons, even accomplished singers have had a hard time recording Jeongseon arirang successfully. After much perseverance, Synnara managed to find the right vocalists.
Most are family members of Kim Yeon-su, a 71-year-old man whose family goes back for five generations in Jeongseon. Other members include his wife, Jeon In-sik, 75, and his four daughters, Sun-nyeo, Sun-deok, Sun-i and Sun-yeo.
Other participants were Mr. Kim’s grandson Sang-geun, 21; his granddaughter Sang-a, 15; his older sister Kim Ok-ja, 75; and his sister-in-law Jeon Gwi-bong, 64.
The family recorded 460 out of a total 4,000 songs that have been passed down through oral transmission. “We picked 460 songs that we can fully absorb without practice,” Mr. Kim said. “If we tried a new arirang song other than those 460, we feel that we’d need to practice more to reproduce the original harmony.”
The CDs were made possible largely by two individuals ― Kim Gi-sun, the president of Synnara Music, and Kim Yeon-gap, an arirang researcher. To realize their dream of replicating the original Jeongseon arirang, they tracked down the Kim family after searching for a year.
It took six months to record the songs. The family had difficulty finding spare time for the recording since they had to keep working on the farm.
“A human’s life and death, forgiveness and reconciliation, resistance and resentment all reside in arirang,” said Mr. Kim, the Synnara president. “Among them, Jeongseon arirang is the one that retains the most original form of arirang. We must preserve this great legacy not only for ourselves but also for the entire world.”
The record company plans to donate 200 copies of the CDs to college libraries, music organizations, and museums around the world.

by Lee Jung-min
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